Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a lifelong United Methodist who is passionate about sharing the
good news of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Senior Pastor of the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has reenergized its work for racial justice, become a founding member of the Sanctuary DMV movement, and created a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team to mobilize consistent action in response to troubling current events.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Ginger has served a variety of congregations: small and large, urban and suburban in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, in addition to an uptown Manhattan and two-point charge in the New York Annual Conference. Ginger has served the Baltimore Washington Conference as Chair of the Board of Discipleship and currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In addition, she has served as an elected delegate to the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For over 20 years as a pastor-theologian, her ministry has encouraged spiritual growth and
engaged discipleship—emphasizing radical hospitality, shared ministry, spiritual practices, and
solidarity with the poor and oppressed. With this focus, she has brought depth, health, and
growth to every community she has served. Ginger contributed to and served as a general editor
for The CEB Women’s Bible (Abingdon, October 2016). Her book, "Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent," was released in May 2018. Ginger is a sought-after
preacher, teacher, and facilitator at local, regional, and international events.
Pastor Ginger enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, and hiking. She is married to Dr. Anthony T. Gaines-Cirelli, a Catholic theologian, currently serving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Director in their Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Office. The Gaines-Cirellis live in NE Washington, D.C. with their clumber spaniels Harvey and Daisy, and cat Fiona.
Connect with Pastor Ginger
How should persons of faith respond when government officials and political leaders behave in ways that contradict values long espoused by Christian tradition? How should churches respond? "Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent" provides thoughtful guidance for those pondering their answers to those questions.
A meditation shared by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC on December 12, 2021, the third Sunday of Advent. “Good Tidings” series.
Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20
I have a plant that is dear to me because it was a memorial gift received for my father’s funeral service six years ago. It was small enough that I could carry it home with me on the plane. This plant is very good at telling me when it needs water. Its leaves begin to look thin and droop, unable to remain upright due to lack of their most vital requirement. As soon as I give it a drink, the response is dramatic. The plant is restored right before my eyes; the water renews its strength.
Perhaps this image first came to mind as I reflected upon the words of the prophet Zephaniah because among all the good tidings from our text, the part that most struck me is, “God will renew you in his love.” At the end of this long year that has felt strangely short, I am painfully aware of how thin my resources are, how difficult it is to “keep my chin up” as daddy would say, how I often feel droopy like my plant when it’s thirsty. I’m aware of my own need for renewal—and I know I’m not alone. I observe frayed relationships and grieving families and whole communities grappling with trauma and anxiety. I’m aware of colleagues in ministry and school teachers and medical professionals who are burned out to the point of walking away from their vocations. I’m aware of the weary ones who continue to try to carry the banner for racial, gender, and economic equity and justice, for common sense gun laws, for access to education and health care and so much more. I’m aware of children and youth falling behind the learning curve and grappling with spikes in anxiety and depression. And, mercy, just think of the communities destroyed in minutes from tornadoes this week and all those still recovering from fires, floods and other increasingly intense natural disasters as a result of climate change. // “God will renew you…” Those are words I need to hear.
The original audience needed these words as well. Zephaniah prophesied in Judah during the early years of King Josiah, around 640 BCE and before the king’s reforms address the mess Israel had made of things. Much of the short book (only three chapters) is searing judgment upon Israel for idolatry and syncretism (1:4-6), complacency (1:12), corrupt leadership (3:3-4), and injustice (3:1, 5). And yet quite abruptly the message shifts. The last word of the book—the way Zephaniah’s prophecy ends—is what we receive today: “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” And why the rejoicing? Because “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you…the Lord your God is in your midst…God will renew you in his love…God will deal with all your oppressors…will save the outcast…will bring you home…”
Picture it in your mind’s eye…a whole community—weighed down with the human mix of guilt, fear, anxiety, weariness, apathy and all the fruits of injustice—everyone drooping and weak, parched for what is most needed... and then news arrives that God is on the way and will not destroy, but save them. Like a drink of cool water, mercy and help and relief and guidance and love flow into the parched places. God’s love renews them all.
The end of Zephaniah feels a little bit like a stock photo, the old Deus ex machina, the knight in shining armor, Tammy Wynette “standing by her man.” It feels too easy, a bit contrived, a predictable ending to God’s love story.
But I gotta say, right now, predictable love stories are giving me life and not a small measure of joy. Whether it’s Hallmark or Lifetime or Netflix or wherever, I’m quite happy to spend some time with completely overused plot points like two romantically challenged characters who meet, realize they’re destined to be together, encounter a series of problems meant to separate them, and by the end are wrapped in each other’s arms. Or two people meet and immediately think the other is awful only later to discover that arguing with each other is better than any conversation with anyone else ever. Or two people who usually don’t get along agree to pretend they are together to satisfy family expectations or make an ex jealous and, well, you know how the story goes…
And I’ll quickly say that the renewal I get from 90 minutes of contrived plot points and charming country Christmas villages with quirky characters is NOT because I lack for love in my life. It’s because sometimes you just need to experience the predictable love story, to be reminded that desire for love is universal, that to love and be loved is life-giving and joy producing. And, of course, there’s the side benefit of shutting off large parts of your brain so that it can get a little break. That is renewing in a whole other way.
Today and throughout this season, we receive again the familiar story of God’s love affair with us. It goes something like this:
God loves us and provides guidance and resources for our lives to flourish; we blow God off in one form or fashion doing harm to others and ourselves in the process; God sends prophets and teachers to try to get our attention; and when we make even the smallest turn toward God, create even the slightest opening in our heart to God, God rushes in with grace and love and compassion and forgiveness. Rejoicing ensues and the credits roll… And then people create a series of sequels that have a very similar plot.
The rejoicing isn’t because we’re off the hook, but because we realize we’re loved “even while we are yet sinners.” (as our communion liturgy affirms) // In my experience, water is sweeter when I’m parched. Mercy and forgiveness are cause for humble rejoicing when I know I’ve messed up. Assurance that I’m not alone and that I’m loved is nice enough when I am feeling strong, but that assurance is new life and strength when I’m feeling weak. Good tidings are only good when we know we stand in need of them…
And the good tidings of Zephaniah’s prophesy reminds us that renewal is God’s desire for us. God knows what we need. We are assured that as we respond to God’s love, strengthened to try to do and be better, to live together in peace with justice, to care for others as we care for ourselves, God is in our midst as our advocate and guide, our protector, and the one who loves us best.
The plot twist, no longer such a twist for those who’ve seen the movie before, is that we aren’t the only ones singing for joy. In verse 17 it is God who is rejoicing! “God will rejoice over you with gladness, God will renew you in his love; God will exult over you with loud singing!”
God’s love story may have a predictable ending. But it never gets old. For God so loves the world that, well, you know how the story goes (cf. John 3:16-17). Let’s rejoice that in these holy days we receive the story and God’s amazing grace… again.
Interfaith Conversation of Forgiveness moderated by David Gregory
Faith Leaders Hold DC Vigil to Call For Change
This Week on Day 1
"I don’t recognize my church." That’s what I said to myself while serving as a delegate of the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
In her new book, “Sacred Resistance,” the senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., articulates how Christians can engage in the work of mending the world.
The language of “resistance” has a long history. For many it will call to mind those who’ve marched, stood on picket lines, participated in sit-ins, and put their bodies between trucks, tanks, and other people or cherished land. Used as a political term, resistance is generally understood as a kind of collective civil disobedience, focused on justice and human rights, and embodied in public actions like those just mentioned.
When so many causes, crises, and critical needs demand our attention, how can a congregation decide where to engage? Pastor and author Ginger Gaines-Cirelli outlines key questions and concerns in discerning a faithful and sustainable response to public issues.
While it is still dark, Easter happens. Because if the message is that Easter only happens in the light, when we feel strong and certain, when suffering and death hasn’t touched our lives, when the powers of empire have been defeated and justice is consistently done — if that’s the only context where Easter happens, then our celebration of Easter would be a farce.
“It’s poor religion that can’t provide a sufficient curse when needed.” Wendell Berry said that.
Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, author of Sacred Resistance, says it’s up to preachers to address the pain, injustice, confusion, and chaos in our days even when it is risky, and she offers guidance on approaching controversial issues in meaningful and responsible ways.
Nearly ten years ago at a dinner in New York City, I was stunned when someone at my table declared clearly that there is really no point in dialogue or relationship with those whose beliefs will not be conformed to your own.
Beth Bingham began to see Hagar of the Old Testament in a new way after studying The
Suddenly she wasn’t just the servant who bore Abraham a child when his wife Sarah couldn’t. She was, essentially, the Bible’s first single mom — one who had to leave the house because tensions were so high.
Bingham, a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, couldn’t wait to bring The CEB (Common English Bible) Women’s Bible and share her Hagar insight with the female inmates she studies Scripture with twice a month.
"I’m not sure how I feel about living in this city,” said a theologically trained young adult with a passion for social justice. As a relative newcomer to Washington, DC, he shared, “It seems that Washington attracts folks who care a lot about power and what it takes to get it.”
“Why should I add another Bible to my shelf?” This good-natured question has emerged often these past months as folks have learned that I served as an editor for the new CEB Women’s Bible.
It’s clear almost instantly that Abingdon Press’s newest Bible isn’t the kind of Christian women’s fare that focuses heavily on Proverbs 31 and lightly on indignities around gender.
The CEB Women’s Bible is a specialty edition of the Common English Bible, sold and distributed by Abingdon Press, part of United Methodist Publishing House. As a contributing editor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli shares, “I think the vast, inclusive number of women’s voices that we have represented in the writings is beautiful and wonderful.” All five editors are women, as are all 80 of the commentary contributors. The team includes mainly seminary professors and pastors, but also Christian novelists and a rabbi.
Growing up in a small town, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli ’96 M.Div. saw the wounds caused by poverty and segregation. Growing up United Methodist, she saw the urgency of connecting personal piety and social action.